Technology has stamped out a popular hobby

Technology has stamped out a popular hobby by Bob Karolevitz Stamp-collecting�s not what it used to be.

Those of us who are older had a philately friend in Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was often pictured with his albums and tweezers. In doing so, he showed youngsters that it wasn�t a sissy sport to save stamps. After all, the president did it!

I was one of those kids then. Every envelope bore a possible treasure for me, as I pestered adults who got lots of mail to save their stamps for me.

Most of them were the three-cent kind, because that was what it cost to send a letter in those days. Occasionally, however, a stamp which I didn�t have would show up, and I proudly pasted it in my album with flimsy paper hinges which, as I recall, cost me 22 cents for a thousand.

Of course, I handled each savable stamp ever so carefully, soaking it off the envelope scrap, drying it on an old newspaper and pressing it flat in the pages of a book I used for that purpose. FDR, I thought, was no better than me.

So I discovered foreign varieties. I sent for �approvals� and grab-bag assortments which stamp companies were happy to provide for Depression-era pennies.

I learned about the differences in perforations and off-center printing. I also found out that the most valuable stamp was a one-cent black-on-magenta British Guiana stamp issued in 1856 which sold for thousands of dollars.

Nine years earlier the United States government printed its first glue-backed ones, selecting illustrations of Ben Franklin, the first postmaster, and George Washington, the first president, for the new stamps. I didn�t have either one of them or the famous upside-down Jenny airplane stamp of 1918.

But I kept looking!

In the meantime I had a good geography lesson. I learned where French Equitorial Africa, North Borneo, Orange River Colony, Transvaal, Saxony, Prussia and Nyasaland Protectorate were because I had stamps from there.

I knew that Deutsches Reich stood for Germany, that Poczta Polska stood for Poland and that Magyar Kir Posta stood for Hungary.

I was a veritable walking encyclopedia because of my stamp collection in those days. Now I have trouble doing a crossword puzzle when a name for an African nation comes up.

Today the Smithsonian Institution says there are still more than six million hobby-type philatelists in the country, so FDR can rest easily knowing there are that many savers and pasters in the country.

(Incidentally, philatelist is a coined word with Greek origins meaning �lover of something untaxed� � which is another thing I learned.)

Unfortunately, youngsters nowadays have other things to entertain them, like television, Legos and electronic games. They have no time for mundane stuff like stamps, and that�s too bad.

Maybe in my dotage I should try collecting again. I found my old album the other day; but, sad to say, it�s woefully obsolete. Persia is now Iran, Siam is Thailand and Ceylon is Sri Lanka. And who can keep up with all those strange countries which have emerged from the former Soviet Union?

Come to think of it, there are no stamps on e-mail, so my source of supply has dried up too. And it�s hard to get that adhesive gum off of most varieties now.

Oh well, there�s always television!

� 2003 Robert F. Karolevitz

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